The Space Fence surveillance and debris-tracking system built by Lockheed Martin [LMT] is on track to be accepted by the Space Force in the first quarter of 2020, officials said.
A new report by the Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) released Jan. 30 notes that the new radar system has met many capability thresholds over a recent test period and is on track to reach initial operating capability (IOC) in the January/February 2020 timeframe.
A U.S. Space Force spokesperson told Defense Daily in a Thursday email that the Space Fence “is projected to achieve Operation Acceptance in the first quarter of calendar year 2020.” The Space Force was established Dec. 20, 2019 and is now overseeing the Space Fence program.
The trial period for the Space Fence began Nov. 25, 2019 and the Required Assets Available milestone was completed Dec. 23, 2019, the spokesperson said, noting that “data generated from the Space Fence is already in use by the space warfighter.” Last May, the system helped to detect debris scattered from a recent anti-satellite test conducted by India during a scheduled exercise (Defense Daily, May 22, 2019).
The U.S. Space Force “continues to assess to effectively and efficiently operate the system, to maximize the advantage of the dedicated Space Domain Awareness radar’s unique capabilities. Space Fence will be the most accurate high-capacity radar in the Space Surveillance Network,” the spokesperson said.
The Air Force began the Space Fence program in 2009, the same year DOT&E put it on oversight. This new 2019 release is the first time the office included the program in its annual report, and DOT&E plans to publish an initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) report in early calendar year 2020. Lockheed Martin completed the critical design review for the Space Fence in 2015 (Defense Daily, Nov. 10, 2015).
The office noted that preliminary test findings showed that the Space Fence could track a number of small objects that were not previously tracked or catalogued, and that once the radar system was operational, “the number of objects confirmed orbiting the earth is expected to grow significantly.”
However, with only one sensor site, on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, “SF does not have the power or coverage to be able to continuously track and maintain awareness of these small objects,” the report said. A second radar site has been targeted in Australia, but has not yet been funded.
It noted that the S-band radar system has met accuracy requirements for objects detected in low Earth orbit, but has not met similar requirements for tracking some objects in medium Earth orbit and geosynchronous Earth orbit.
DOT&E noted some inconsistencies in the system’s capability to plan, schedule or conduct tasks correctly, and added that network latency has affected system performance between the Space Fence operation center and the sensor site. However, it did not issue any specific recommendations for the program.